Queens in a Banquet Hall

As a contributing writer for NYC Recession Diary, I sometimes get asked to cover different events around the city that scream awesome. Last week I had the pleasure of attending Dish du Jour Magazine's "The Cuisine of Queens" tasting event at the Astoria Manor with my friend Amanda. 

You may recognize this location as the scene of Dorota's wedding in Gossip Girl and Hilda's wedding in Ugly Betty. With wall-to-wall mirrors, larger than life chandeliers, sparkly pink paint in the girls bathroom,  gaudy statues and fake flowers galore - it's probably the most unique venue I've been to in New York, but I loved every minute of it. 

Scroll down to find the link to my full review on NYCRD, but I wanted to share some pictures with my awesome readers.

The banquet hall where all of the amazing food was served.
One of my favorites - garlic shrimp from Cafe Ole
Another favorite - Sweet Potato Gnocchi from Manetta's
The vat of caramelized onions at 5 Napkin Burger - delish!
Amanda with Dino from Dino's Restaurant - he made the sausage!
Delicious rum drink with OJ and nutmeg
One of the smoothest beers I've ever tried
Some of the wine selection
All I can say is AWESOME! (Lulu's Bakery's spread)
Cooking competition
Me with Andrea Beaman (Top Chef Season 1)
Amanda and I enjoyed a final glass of sake before heading home

To read my original announcement of the event on NYCRD, click here!

To read my review on NYCRD, click here!


Definitely the Summer's Classiest Evening

Concerts in the park just scream summer don't they? I've just been so busy this summer that it's gone by and I had yet to go to a single one! Thanks to the folks at Bryant Park, who hooked me and my friend Jana up with VIP seats to the last concert of the Bryant Park Fall Fest via a Twitter contest, I now feel my summer is closer to being complete.

We arrived at the lawn at about ten minutes until six, just in time to take our seats WAY in front of everyone else who had to get there an hour or so early to snag the best regular people seats, and we found a cute little paper bag full of goodies to satisfy us through the concert. You know it was classy because we got the cute little carrots you only find in fine French restaurants and a glass of red wine.

Our classy array of fruits, cheese and the fancy carrots.
I had fun with the fruit.

The food was courtesy of Bryant Park Grill, which bakes THE best chocolate chip cookies ever. Honestly, you think you've had a chocolate chip cookie, until you've had one of theirs. I'd highly recommend the experience.

Jana posing with the AWESOME cookies.
After the initial culinary excitement passed, the sun faded and the show began. We had the pleasure of listening to the Orchestra of St. Luke's: Baroque and Romantic chamber music by the Grammy-winning ensemble. Now, I've never been one for classical music. It could be that I never played an instrument (barring a huge effort at guitar) or that I just don't know that much about what there is to appreciate. But there was something about listening to the three pieces by this orchestra that tugged at me and made me really embrace the emotion in the music. I left feeling the same way as I do after a wonderful yoga class and I could not have been happier.

The Orchestra of St. Luke's

Behind us, the heads of the audience under a beautiful sliver of sunset


The Best Lunch Hour Ever

Ah, dessert. Just the word makes me happy. Put the word free in front of it and add an "s" at the end and hot dog! I'm a happy camper.

The TV network Bravo decided to make the day of thousands of dessert lovers across the country last week by partnering with bakeries, patisseries and ice cream parlors to give out free sweets and promote its new show Top Chef: Just Desserts. Of the 69 participating locations in NYC, I mapped out the closest five to my office and my coworker Andy and I headed out for the most perfect afternoon adventure you could possibly fit in a lunch hour.

First stop was the Little Pie Company on Greenwich Street for a bite of their signature Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie. When I used to work in midtown, I belonged to a gym just down the street from the Hell's Kitchen location and I would smell the heavenly aroma of fresh baked pies to and from a workout. Some might call it torture, but I found it a wonderful exercise in self-discipline. Sometimes. Anyway, this pie is divine and I would highly recommend picking up one of their self-proclaimed "little pies," popping it into the oven for a quick warm up and enjoying it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the couch with your best bud. 

Next we visited Duane Park Patisserie for some brownie goodness. Even though it was only our second stop, I had the forethought to be excited about the fact that all the goodies were wrapped in plastic. I saved my cherry dark chocolate brownie for the next afternoon and it was truly scrumptious. Andy got the espresso brownie and I'm pretty sure it was gone in two bites, so it was probably wonderful as well.

Me with my brownie in front of Duane Park Patisserie

Duane Park Patisserie
A sweet spot I discovered only a few months back, Tribeca Treats was our third dessert tour stop and after reading about their samples on Twitter, I was most excited for it. We walked into the store and saw a beautiful display of mini s'mores cupcakes. I appreciated the size, only two regular or three small bites, but the flavor lasted. The cake was light and the frosting not too overly sweet. Yum!

Mini s'mores cupcakes at Tribeca Treats
Feeling the sugar rush start to take hold, we turned south to visit Takashi Bakery on Murray Street for some Asian-inspired treats. I snapped up the last strawberry choux, a sort of cream puff-like pastry filled with a custard made with real strawberries and topped with strawberry sugar. Andy tried their chocolate chip cookie and we were off to freebie #5.

Strawberry Choux from Takashi Bakery
Our last stop is world renowned for its truffles, elite chocolate confections and window-dipped chocolate covered strawberries. A total of 13 Godiva locations throughout NYC participated in this sweet promotion and we stopped at the Maiden Lane outpost for a sample of their Chocolate Lava Cake Truffle. As part of their limited edition of Bakery Dessert Truffles, this small ball of chocolate surprised me as it gave me the same experience as enjoying a real chocolate lava cake, complete with the ooey-gooey center.

We made it back to the office in just under an hour, but I was satiated and content. If I hadn't been full of dessert from the afternoon, I would have participated in the evening's events, which included free desserts at hundreds of nice NYC restaurants with the purchase of an entree. As for now, I'm excited to watch Top Chef: Just Desserts to see what kinds of innovative ideas they come up with. Who knows, maybe the finalist will create some concoction for another Free Dessert Day in a couple of months. One can wish. 


Grab Yourself Some Free Museum Cultcha!

Want to go to a museum this weekend without the guilt of not paying the suggested admission fee? With so many great institutions around the city, it's a shame not to explore once in a while and the Smithsonian Magazine is giving you the chance to check one out for free this Saturday! Good news for my non-NYC readers, this promotion is good on hundreds of museums around the country!

You can see the Notorious and Notable exhibit at my favorite Museum of the City of New York or spend the afternoon in the mesmerizing building of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. The majority of the major NYC art museums have tickets up for grabs as well. So clear out your Saturday and grab some cultcha - for free!

Click here to get your tickets.


AWESOME GIVEAWAY: 2 Tickets to Love, Loss and What I Wore

I'm very excited to announce my first Awesome Giveaway on the blog. You know how much of a fan I am of winning things and it only makes me happy to spread the wealth :)

With that said, I'm giving away 2 tickets to see the fabulous show Love, Loss and What I Wore by the Ephron sisters. I had the pleasure of seeing the show in August and I left feeling uplifted and inspired by the stories in the show. With an amazing rotating cast including Stacy London, Brooke Shields and Jamie Lynn-Sigler, the show is based on the book by the same title and is playing at the Westside Theater on W. 43rd Street. 

To enter the giveaway, you have a couple of options (please leave your email address on one of your comments so that I can let you know if you've won):

1) Comment on this post letting me know why you want to see this show and who you will take.
2) Follow Awesome in New York by clicking the "subscribe" button on the top right side and leave a comment letting me know you did so.
3) Tweet about this giveaway and leave a comment with your Twitter handle.
4) Follow me on Twitter @yaelleah and leave a comment saying that you're a follower.

The winner will be randomly chosen using random.org and will receive two tickets for any Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday through October 3rd. The giveaway will run until 5p.m. EST on Wednesday 9/22. The winner will have 24 hours from when he/she is announced to claim their prize, otherwise I'll choose a runner up. Good luck!

A winner has been chosen! Congrats to Katharine from NYC Recession Diary! She was the 9th commenter and wins two tickets to see Love, Loss, and What I Wore! Thanks to everyone for entering and I hope to see you back here soon!

Who Says You Can't Be Paid in Food?

Ah volunteering. The best way to get free stuff in my experience. And with all of these high end events happening in NYC practically every day, there's sure to be an event that piques your interest and offers substantial awesome value.

One such event that I salivate over every year, though the expense has been a persistent hurdle to my attendance, is the New York City Wine and Food Festival. Practically every star chef, baker, mixologist and sommelier will be cooking, chopping, pureeing and most importantly feeding the masses at many specialize seminars and demonstrations throughout the Columbus Day weekend festival.

Here's the good news for you if you didn't RSVP for some of these events back in April or can't really justify spending $400 on a one-hour event, you can volunteer. Fill out the form and if you're lucky enough to be contacted you may be doing some heavy lifting or gift-bag packing (if you're super lucky there might be an extra for you to take home!), but you'll get to hobnob with Food Network chefs, sample elegant and tasty culinary wonders and get a discount code to attend an event.

I wouldn't wait if I were you to fill out that form because I'm sure these spots will fill up fast. If you happen to snag one, come back and share the awesomeness in a comment :)


New York Knowledge (and perks!)

One of the best decisions I made in the past year was joining the Museum of the City of New York as a "Young Member." If you've ever been, you've undoubtedly sampled some of the most superb exhibits in the entire city and (BONUS!) you actually get to learn about your surroundings and how they got that way. You've also oogled at some of the museums collection of furniture and other artifacts from the turn of the century. (And I'm not talking about the one that just happened 10 years ago).

General admission is a suggested donation of $10 ($6 for seniors and students) and that will enable to you see three rotating exhibits ranging from NY State ecological history, original Dutch artifacts from the time of Henry Hudson and classic Life Magazine photographs that defined eras in the city. This is a museum you can get through in about two hours, feel like you saw everything and not doze off in the process. My kind of place.

I joined because of the extra perks. A one-year Young Member's Circle membership is $100 and is available for people ages 21-39. Hosting a new and exclusive event every month, the museum does a great job of entertaining us. In the spring, we were granted access to a behind-the-scenes tour of the NYC Auto Show, which coincided with the museum's exhibit on the history of the car in the city. With artist studio visits and movie screenings (hello, how do you think I got in to see Dinner for Schmucks?), the events are amazing experiences which I would be jealous of if I wasn't already there.

Me "driving" a REALLY expensive car at the NYC Auto Show
In addition to the monthly events, I'm invited to all museum openings with a plus one. Champagne is always a flowing and hors d'ouevers are a plenty. There are lots of the right noses to rub wandering around as well. MCNY's newest exhibit, Notorious and Notable: 20th Century Women of Style, opened to the public yesterday and I attended the opening on Monday night. From what else I've seen at the museum, this is a special presentation MCNY's costume collection. It recognizes women from across the past century and showcases some lovely, stunning and some pretty extravagant ensembles which have been exquisitely preserved. If I knew how to make silk chiffon from the 1920s look good as new 90 years later like they do, I'd be rich. My favorites were a dark purple Dior gown and a 1996 Norman Norell gown for Lauren Bacall.

The red section of the exhibit (Photo courtesy of NY Social Diary)
Lauren Bacall's 1966 gown I loved ( (Photo courtesy of NY Social Diary)
MCNY also has a very very very informative exhibit on John Lindsay, the former mayor of NYC, and the era in which he served. For a relative newbie to the city (2 years and 1 month today!), the history presented through the photographs, videos and explanations gave me a great background to understanding how the city got to be the way it is. All I have to say is that things were just plain crazy here in the 60s and 70s. It's only on view until October 3, so hurry over and make sure you get to check it out.

Another perk for joining, as if you need another one, is you get a book of one of the current exhibits. They make great coffee table decorations and conversation pieces. Lastly, if you're over 39, you can still join the museum and enjoy all the great benefits

It's your city, go learn about it. And then you can impress all of your out-of-town guests with your even larger bank of NYC knowledge.


Because You Just Can't Have Too Many Aerial Shots

I recently visited family in Denver and as the plane took off out of La Guardia airport, it took a different route over the city than it normally does. In fact we went right over the South Bronx and the tip of Manhattan. I was quick to grab my ever handy camera (even though technically electronic devices weren't supposed to be on yet...shhhh!) and snap some pretty awesome, though hazy shots of the city on a Wednesday afternoon. Enjoy!